In May 2015, when a Mumbai sessions court convicted actor Salman Khan in the 2002 hit and run case in which one man was killed (the Mumbai High court subsequently acquitted him in 2016), his supporters blamed the footpath dwellers instead.
Playback singer Abhijeet in a vomit-inducing tweet then wrote: "If a dog sleeps on the road then he/she will die a dog's death.'' Another friend of the actor, jewellery designer Farah Khan Ali insensitively tweeted: "It's like penalising a train driver because someone decided to cross the tracks and got killed in the bargain."
Something very similar took place in Kerala where superstar Dileep, referred to as `Janapriya Nayakan' (popular hero) by his fans, was arrested this week in the case of the abduction and molestation of a Malayalam film actress in February. When his name was initially mentioned in connection with the case, Dileep told a Malayalam TV channel that the actress should have been cautious about the friends she chose to keep. The insinuation was that she had herself to blame as she had befriended first accused Pulsar Suni, who was already arrested for abducting and molesting the actress.
The tone and tenor of Dileep's colleagues like Mukesh and Ganesh Kumar at the press conference called by the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) also clearly showed where their sympathies lay. In fact, producer Saji Nanthiyattu, who is the vice president of the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce indulged in an Abhijeet-ism during a TV show saying "The woman was harassed only for two and a half hours. But Dileep has been harassed for four months and has suffered mental agony.''
It was obvious that none of the big stars or their lackeys saw who the real victim was. A pathetic commentary on misogynistic Mollywood.
But if things were bad before the arrest, Kerala has displayed no sense of balance on the Dileep story after he went behind bars. On the streets of Kerala, many have pronounced him guilty, contending that Kerala police would not have arrested him without sufficient evidence. In fact, Kerala police's stock has gone up significantly after the arrest. When he was taken to Aluva sub-jail, people hooted `Welcome to Central Jail', a sarcastic reference to the title of Dileep's Onam release last year.
The Malayalam media too has been feeling almost vindicated as it kept up the pressure on the police and the political leadership to ensure the case was not buried. While AMMA's silent stars Mohanlal and Mammootty found their voice after his arrest and removed the actor from the association, director Vinayan said Dileep was known to be a vengeful person who would settle scores with those he fell out with.
After Dileep's arrest, most of his fan pages on Facebook went into silent mode. Now after the initial shock of their favourite hero going behind bars, Dileep's supporters are coming out, running a campaign to project the mimicry artist-turned-actor as the tragic hero, who is being wronged for no fault of his.
The Salmanification of Dileep has begun. If it is Sallu bhai in Mumbai, it is Dileep Ettan in Kochi.
Realising that much of the dirt on Dileep is being thrown on social media, several `We Support Dileep' pages have sprung up on Facebook. One page called `I support Dileep' has `I know him, I trust him' as the tagline.
On his Facebook page, Vysakh, who directed `Pulimurugan' with Mohanlal and `Sound Thoma' with Dileep, spoke for his immense love and affection for the accused star. Which is absolutely fine except for Vysakh's argument that since Dileep is an artist and has lot of love for his daughter, mother and sister, he could not have committed the crime. Does Vysakh mean to say no artist and loving family man ever committed a crime?
Another Facebook page, presumably that of a fan of Malayalam actor Siddique, who is close to Dileep, indulges in Whataboutery. It asks why the properties of businessman and philanthropist Boby Chemmannur who was accused last year of abusing a woman, were not vandalised. Dileep's cinema multiplex and restaurants in Chalakudy, Kochi and Kozhikode came under attack. The intention is to show Kerala as a land of hypocrites, who are out to kick a man when he is down. Someone ask them how many of them supported the actress, traumatised by the horrific experience when she was fighting for justice.
Taking a leaf out of the `Being Human' branding of Salman Khan, fawning articles about the charity work done by Dileep in Malayalam print media have started appearing. While the judicial verdict will finally decide whether Dileep is guilty or not, the fightback to portray him as the wronged one and rebrand him has begun.